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Questioning our Queues

I have stood in many a line for many a thing. The allure of free Chick-fil-A sandwiches has had me in a long, hot, sweaty line dressed as a cow with my little calves countless times. I once wiped my eyes, grabbed my coffee and posted up at the local public pool at 6 am to get free swim lessons for my water-phobic children. I am no stranger to the strange compulsions of a love of a mother.

Yet, the recent phenomena of out-of-control queues for the the “Pay Your Age” Build-A-Bear promotion has me saddened and concerned.

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On the one hand, as a mother, I understand deeply the desire to work hard to secure and procure good things for our offspring.  The love of a parent for a child is a near-miraculous thing. Yet, on the other hand, I see a sad story in the Build-A-Bear conundrum. We find it acceptable and expected to see lines wrap around entire malls for toys, yet seem to have a hard time expecting, accepting and empathizing with families queuing up on our border in attempts to leave dangerous situations and life-crippling poverty.

I am quick to recognize that immigration policy is a complex subject, so I will avoid any discussion of what we should do as a nation, as that is not my area of expertise; however, I am concerned about our hearts and our posture towards those queues no matter what the policy.

We are quick to assimilate long lines for toys into our view of reality while rejecting and ignoring the longer queues at our borders.

I have thought and pondered long on my own heart’s desire to focus on my own possessions and places while conveniently tuning down (or turning off) those which make me face uncomfortable realities. I believe we are afraid to face the refugee situation because we are afraid to face our own fears.

In our country, as a whole (as compared to most other nations) we are able to believe in the facade of control, stability and longevity.  As such, refugees make us face our deepest fears that life on this earth is indeed temporary, that, despite the fact that we live in secure homes on mostly ordered streets, any neighborhood on this globe is really only a tent city, a temporary home.

Our country has made its name and built its history on an independent spirit. My own soul desperately wants to self-sufficient, even as one who knows that the gospel primarily means a delightful utter dependence upon God. To pay attention to refugee populations who have become, often through no fault of their own, utterly dependent on hand outs and aid is to be reminded of how deeply dependent each of us are to others for our well being.  After all, we breath borrowed, walk on legs we did not create and eat food we did not grow.

The sad reality is that in rejecting to at least deeply consider the plight of refugees we are rejecting a remedy.

What refugees offer to our nation, in addition to countless other gifts of culture and perspective, is remedy in the form of a searing reminder. A reminder that this earth is indeed only a vestibule, a hallway into an eternal life. That, especially as believers, we are called to live as those in tent-cities, living lightly, ready to move at any moment, utterly dependent upon our God for life and breath and being.

While we offer stability and security and the chance to begin life again for refugees, they bring something we desperately need but equally desperately seek to avoid: a reality check.

I fear that in refusing to engage in the refugee situation, we are refusing a great and timely gift, one that would benefit our neighborhoods, our Churches and our souls.

For in the recognition in our ultimate lack of control, our desperate dependence upon God for all things, and our deepest desire for a forever home, a city without walls whose builder and architect is God, we are able to live in this earthly vestibule in a way that brings the most joy, the greatest hope and the longest security.

I, for one, need these reminders daily, as, in my flesh and fear,  I am tempted to become accustomed to toy lines and accusatory to border lines. By the grace of God, may it not be so!

 

 

 

 

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A Mid-summer Day’s Confession

While I have not yet quite reached my typical mid-summer meltdown, I figure it is most likely time to repost this one.

Mid-summer checkpoint: We have done the beach and the bay and the lazy mornings. We have stayed up late and eaten more popsicles. On the outside, all is well, but my soul has not been well.

Through self-pity and comparison, which have been on a low, silent simmer for a few weeks now, I have allowed sin to insidiously seep into our summer.

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Rather than be filled with joy for my friends, I have envied them their exotic vacations and neighborhood pools. I have bought the lies of picture perfection yet again without realizing it, imagining that there are no sibling spats and errant attitudes in your homes. As such, I have felt ashamed at my own irritability with my dear but far-from-perfect children. Rather than confess it quickly, I have heaped on “What’s wrong with me and them?” shame.

I have allowed the combination of lower structure and higher time with my crew to distort my vision of my children. Rather than seeing their strengths and wise choices, I have had a magnifying glass on their weaknesses. This distorted vision starts with the way I wrongly imagine God views me.

Somehow this summer, I have slowly forgotten that Our Heavenly Father doesn’t wear sin-magnifying shades, but looks upon us through the lenses of love He has for His perfect Son.

In the midst of trying to find a perfect formula for lowering screen time and raising reading, decreasing grumpiness and heightening fun, I have minimized His grace and maximized my contribution. As such, by mid-summer, I have come to the end of my own small storerooms of patience, peace and joy. Thankfully, He has silos upon silos of these commodities to offer me when I come to Him in repentance and rest.

In the likely event that there exists another introverted momma who craves structure and alone time and has wearied herself trying to create a memorable summer for her chilren on a tight budget without air conditioning, I would love to lead us through Psalm 32.

Psalm 32 is a well-worn trail through the narrow places confession to the broad spaces of comfort and consolation at the Cross. David deeply loved God but was not immune to seasonal sin patterns; throughout his life, he got tripped up in the same way, as seen in the repeated introduction to his slippery slopes, “In the spring when the kings went off to war, David…” (2 Samuel 11:1; 1 Chronicles 20:1).

David’s feet knew ruts of unrighteousness but they also learned ruts of righteousness through repentance, Psalm 32 being one of those paths that lead us to Christ.

Blessed is the one whose trangression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. …I acknowledged my sin to you and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgression to the Lord and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.”….Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found.
Psalm 32:1 & 5-6.

It is not a lack of sin that separates the godly from the ungodly; rather, it is the acknowledgement, uncovering and confession of sin that delineate the two. Both groups struggle with a chronic sin-sickness, but only the godly drag that struggle into the shadow of the Cross.

I am not surprised by my sin, but I am continually shocked at how long it takes me to honestly call it sin and bring myself exposed to God through Christ. When I come to Him in such naked vulnerability, He quickly covers me in His abundant blankets of forgiveness and grace.

When, and only when, I am warmed by His grace, I am able to offer forgiveness and warmth to my children and those in my flock.

After dumping the slow buildup of summer’s sin at the Cross, I am ready to face the rest of the summer in His strength rather than my own. While cirucmstances may not have changed and our scenery will likely not change, my heart is changed and renewed by a fresh reapplication of His grace. We mommas know sunscreen has to be reapplied double-time in the summer; may we know that the same is true of God’s undeserved grace.

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Perseverance through the Badlands

I have never been to the Badlands, nor does the name leave me desiring to do so. Originally named by the Lakota people for its scorching temperature, lack of water and rugged terrain, the description seems to have stuck.

Although I have not visited the Badlands proper, I have driven through Eastern Texas which is its own version of the Badlands. Long stretches of hot, flat sameness that offers little excitement or novelty are neither easy on the eyes nor the soul.

The middle years after young adulthood and the novelty of marriage and family can sometimes begin to look like the Badlands with their long stretches of monotony and sameness.

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C.S. Lewis captures the Enemy’s potential to exploit those long middle years in his tongue-and-cheek classic The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape, the senior tempter, writing to  his young, naive apprentice Wormwood, encourages him to take advantage of the badlands.

“The Enemy has guarded him from you through the first great wave of temptations. But, if only he can be kept alive, you have time itself for your ally. The long, dull, monotonous years of middle-aged prosperity or middle-aged adversity are excellent campaigning weather. You see, it is so hard for these creatures to persevere. The routine of adversity, the gradual decay of youthful loves and youthful hopes, the quiet despair (hardly felt as pain) of ever overcoming the chronic temptations with which we have again and again defeated them, the drabness which we create in their lives and the inarticulate resentment with which we teach them to respond to it – all this provides admirable opportunities of wearing out a soul by attrition.”

Routine, sameness, necessary responsibilities compounded over time, lack of novelty: all of these have always been excellent campaigning weather for the Enemy of our souls. However, in our culture of instant gratification and constant amusement and change, we are even more susceptible to the slow atrophy of the Enemy.

Steadiness, once hailed as a virtue, is often seen as boring. Quiet faithfulness is not flashy or headline worthy. Yet, the kingdom of God has moved steadily onward through the mundane faithfulness of ordinary people living ordinary lives with an extraordinary God for countless centuries.

We would do well to reclaim and rename the badlands of the middle years as the bedrock of beautiful faithfulness. Rather than allowing the middle years to work their attrition on our souls, we are invited to allow these years to deepen our adoration of our steady, unchanging God. After all, He has not grown weary of causing the sun to rise or the moon to wax and wane monthly. He has not grown weary of using the same gospel to save myriads of souls across the centuries.

Moses, in the midst of his middle years in Midian, met Yahweh in an astounding way and was compelled into a new, fresh season of faithfulness. Even as he grew old and shepherded a stubborn people through an unforgiving land for decades, through grace, his spirit did not grow dull. Deuteronomy 34:7 tells us that “Moses was 120 years old when he died. His eye was undimmed, and his vigor unabated.”

In the badlands of bland landscape with a bleeting flock of wayward soul-sheep, his eyes kept a spark of life and light and wonder. How?

He kept near to His steady, life-giving God. He continually sought His presence and power and wisdom and was rhythmically renewed in Yahweh’s words and promises.

Sameness of company and calling does not have to be equated with the badlands. Quite the contrary, in the sameness of life here, we are invited to be washed and renewed in the steady stream of His purposes and love which have no expiration date. Our steady God offers us fresh mercy and renewed perspective to continue to do the same thing with a hopeful heart.

 

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An Amenable Arrow

Arrows are not in charge. They are tools at the disposal of the archer in whose possession they exist. They are to be content and amenable to the will of the archer. He who carries them constantly in his quiver decides when they are needed and the course they are to take. The arrow’s delight comes from being useful to the archer, ready for his bidding, slim and still in his directing hands.

I am often far from an amenable arrow in the quiver of the Lord. I tend to alternate between anxiously fretting in the quiver, questioning His decisions and trying to anticipate the archer’s next move.

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As I have been studying Psalm 25 this week, archery has been on the forefront of my mind. The Psalm smacks of guidance and direction, as David is continually talking about His ways, His courses and His paths.

Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long…Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right and teaches the humble his way. All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness for those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.
Psalm 25: 4-5 & 8-9. 

Two Hebrew words particularly jumped out to me in my study: darek and yara. Darek, translated as lead in the above verses, can also be translated to aim or to conduct, to set a course. Yara, translated as direct in the verses, literally refers to an archer shooting an arrow.

As such, the Lord, who is both good and upright, is the ultimate archer. He will direct the course of action and send the appropriate arrow in the appropriate way at the appropriate time. Sounds simple, except that we, as his people, are not always amenable arrows.

The image that comes to mind is that of a handful of cartoonish and caricatured arrows and an infinitely wise and patient archer. The anxious arrow wears a constant face of worry, nervous that he has somehow missed his moment yet scared of the target. He constantly shouts queries from the quiver: “Have you forgotten me?”, “Are you sure I am ready?”, “What if I don’t fly straight?” and the likes.

The proud arrow wears a smug mug and tends to be a backseat driver. So certain of his readiness and wisdom, He tends to question the pace and position of the archer from whose hands he was fashioned and on whose back he rides: “Did you forget about that target over there?”,  “I think you are headed the wrong way.” and “Don’t you need an arrow like me to do that job?”

The anticipatory arrow nearly jumps out of the quiver at the slightest sound of trouble or any motion from the archer. He stands atop the quiver, ready to jump in an self-sufficient attempt to launch himself. The anxious arrow grabs his cock feathers, keeping him safe from his preemptive moves. Like the frustrating child on the long trip to Disneyland, he constantly asks the archer the same question on repeat: “Now?”.

In Psalm 25, David typifies an amenable arrow.  The entire psalm presupposes a posture of humility and teachability before the Lord. David beings by saying, “To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in you I trust” (verses 1-2) The word wait shows up three times the psalm and the words humble and fear show up twice.

An amenable arrow waits humbly in his quiver, with “eyes ever toward the Lord” (verse 15). He recognizes that he is a sinner, guilty before the Lord (verses 7, 8 and 11), and at the mercy of the archer; yet, he is confident in the character and the aim of the archer. He waits upon the archer’s initiative, ready to be aimed and shot in His prescribed ways. He seems content to be on the back of the archer, longing for “the friendship of the Lord” (verse 14).

While I long to be and to become an amenable arrow, I find my heart deeply grateful this morning that our Lord is both archer and arrow. He was willing to be an instrument in His own Father’s hands, shot from the safety, security and shalom of the Trinity. His task was to be sent to the cruel Cross. He did not resist, but in humility was directed that we might be restored to right relationship with God, returned to the quiver and transformed into amendable arrows, useful to the Master.

 

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Meting out Love: The Best and the Rest

Regularly my husband and I ask ourselves who is getting our “best” and who is getting the “rest.” We have had to build this rhythm into our lives because we are limited in our capacities even when we are connected to an unlimited God. We have limits, we need rest, we come to the end of our selves; as such, there is a chasm between our best love and our leftovers.

To be certain, any love we give, be it a five-course meal or three-day old leftovers, comes from His outpouring of love into us; however, there are certain people we want to pour out the fresh, high octane love He has poured into us first.

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In his masterpiece, The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis explores this theme. Written from The following insight from Screwtape, an older demon mentoring his apprentice Wormwood in how to ensnare a new believer, helps us to evaluate where our best is being scattered and spent.

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets everyday and to thrust his benevolence out to the remotest circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary. There is no good at all in inflaming his hatred of Germans, if, at the same time, a pernicious habit of charity is growing up between him and his mother, his employer, and the man he meets in the train.”

The picture of two demons dancing in delight when I put money in the Salvation Army bin or host a lovely party, only to be short-tempered and impatient with my own children and husband has stuck with me.

Just yesterday, I was meeting with a young lady I have been discipling. I gave her my full attention and my best wisdom, both of which are admirable things; however, I was spent afterwards and found myself being preoccupied and distracted with my own children, who are the most real and permanent fixtures in my earthly life. I realized afterwards that I had been directing my best love to the outer parts of my life and directing my leftovers, which are rarely pretty, to the ones who are with me everyday.

The juxtaposition of my grace towards the young lady and my frustration with my own children exposed my limitations. I had to repent of my poor attitude toward my own children and go back to the Lord, asking for fresh springs of His love.

I wish there were a simple formula or even a complex algorithm for who to love and when. However, the Bible has given us a seemingly impossible blanket statement to love our neighbors as ourselves. Christ exhibited this perfectly. He blessed the masses but invested in a few. He gave His best to the twelve disciples who were with Him day in and day out, but He has always had enough for the outliers and the outcasts that were in His path. While we are not Christ, we are in the process of being conformed to His likeness.

On our own, it is impossible to love any neighbor as ourselves, as our hearts, apart from the work of grace, are incurvatus in se (Latin for curved in on self); however, in Christ and through the Spirit, we are empowered to love those around us.

As an in-process broken and leaky vessel, the love that God pours into me doesn’t stick and stay. Thus, I have to choose where its best spills over. I long for His fresh inwrought patience that He works in me to be worked out into the lives of those who are with me daily, even though the tendency is to put my best foot forward with outsiders and leave the rest for my family.

This does not mean that I do not feel called to love our neighbors or that I want only to lavish love on the inner circle of my life. I long for God to continually stretch my capacity and character in such a way that His in-poured love stays long and penetrates deep, so deep and long that I have His love for both my inner and outer circles. However, I long to have a propensity to give my best to those who know me the best and whose lives my own life most deeply and regularly affect.

Oh, how I long for the day when my heart is so stretched and my affection so fixed on Christ that I am continually abiding in Him and able to mete out His best for those on my inner and outer circles. Until that day, I pray that those who are closest to me would find me continually repenting and returning to Him who is the source of all love.

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The Soul-Changing Magic of Tidying Up

I am raising tiny hoarders who love to keep any and everything that has an iota of meaning attached to it. They save every thank you note, Lego instruction manual, entrance bracelet and piece of paper with a scrap of significance. When they are away at school or day camp, it takes every ounce of self-control in my adult body to not do a clean sweep of their spaces.

Without realizing it, I myself tend to hoard folders of failures, stacks of sins and trunks of trophies. I don’t realize how they clog and clutter my soul until I find there is little space for the burdens and interests of others. While I know that the Holy Spirit can operate within tight places, I am certain He appreciates enough space to move about freely. As such, fairly regularly, He begins a clean sweep of my soul.

While I have not read the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, I believe I have experienced the Holy Spirit’s version countless times. Each time, the purge begins with unpleasant realities but leads to a much-needed airing out of my soul, leaving fresh spaces and places for God to pour out His presence and purposes.

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Folders of Failures
While I can never remember my grocery list or dates for events, I have an impeccable memory when it comes to my failures. I tend to hold on to them and play them on repeat in my mind the way my children replay the Duck Song on YouTube. I fiddle with my failings, turning them over and over the way my children play with their Rubix cubes. If only I had done______ or not done ______, if only I had planned better or thought harder, if only I had been more consistent. Little sticks of “If only’s” begin to add up, damning up the free flow of the forgiveness of God.

He does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. Psalm 103: 10-11. 

While it is easy to sing this Scripture in songs or paint it on placards, it is much harder to apply to our own lives. A relinquishing of our failures must proceed a receiving of His forgiveness. I must rest in His presence and wade in His Words long enough to believe that He is far more satisfied with Jesus in me than I am dissatisfied with myself.

Stacks of Sins
In the Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, you are invited to let go of the things that do not make you smile, that don’t bring you happiness or warmth.  However, in Spirit-enabled soul-tidying, we are called to especially rid ourselves of the sins and idols that bring smiles to our faces.  We all have pet sins, those that seem to help us gain success or approval, those that promise shortcuts to satisfaction or significance.

Perfectionism is a favorite sin of mine. I tend to have it in every shade like my Target tank tops, stacks of the same root sin, painted with different hues, cut slightly differently. Before I knew the Lord, it awarded me countless awards and ribbons and scholarships. Since knowing the Lord, it has allowed me to present a certain image to others that makes me feel better and stronger than others. I rid my closet of it, but then my flesh find ways to smuggle it back into my soul.

God called His people to completely rid the Promised Land of all traces of the idolatrous shrines to the Asherim (Deuteronomy 7:5). Jesus, in a display of righteous anger, cleansed the Temple (Matthew 21: 12-17 & John 2:11-12). The Spirit does a similar continual cleanse of our souls which are now the temples of the Lord. We would do well to come alongside Him rather than fight against Him in His life-giving attempt to rid us of the traces of our pet sins.

Trunks of Trophies
While it seems obvious that we ought to let go of our failures and favorite sins, it is less apparent that the Spirit would continually cleanse of our trophies. But our successes and placards of faithfulness have as much power to clog our souls as do our failures and instances of unfaithfulness.

The only wise thing to do with trophies and crowns is to throw them down at the feet of our Jesus in worship. Rather than storing them up as trophies to our own pride, we ought to offer them to Him as trophies of His grace.

They cast their crowns before the throne, saying, “Worthy are you, our Lord to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created.” Revelation 4:10-11. 

May you and I both experience the soul-changing magic of tidying up, as grace can fill empty things, and the Spirit works where He has space to compel and constrain and pour.

 

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Sacred Spaces: On Differentiation and Discipleship

Some daydream about vacations in Italy or winning the lottery. I find myself daydreaming of being a librarian married to a plumber. Strange, I know.

My husband and I have been called to full-time vocational ministry, which means people and souls are the “sacred stuff” of our days. It is incredible and satisifying work, but often it leaves me romanticizing a simpler life involving working with mostly inanimate objects.

Souls are sacred, quivering stuff, which makes souls working with and interacting closely with other souls as a job a simultaneously scary and sacred calling.

As someone whose number one strength is responsibility and ownership, I have wrestled deeply in the past decade to learn the intricate dance between differentiation and discipleship, between two seemingly contradictory commands regarding interacting with others souls.

Bear one another’s burden and thereby fulfill the law of Christ. Galations 6:2.

But let each one test his own work, and then his reason to boast will be in himself alone and not in his own neighbor. For each will have to bear his own load. Galatians 6:4-5. 

Paul is not afraid of paradoxes, as He is one who closely followed and sought to understand the King of Paradoxes, Jesus Christ. In one breath, Paul boldly declares to his friends in Galatia that they are to be intimately involved in one another’s lives to the point of helping to bear or carry burdens. The word he uses here, the Greek word baros, means a weight.

However, in the very next breath, Paul is quick to remind them of a complementary truth that can appear contradictory when read on a cursory level. Here, Paul uses the same verb meaning to bear or carry but a different object, the Greek word phortion, meaning a nontransferrable freight or cargo.

It’s as if he says, “Bear each other’s heavy weights; yet remember, each one of you must bear his own load. Love one another, be engaged and empathetic toward one another, but let that be balanced by the fact that each man and woman will be responsible before God for his or her own decisions and manner of life.”

I get the differnce between baros and phortion concept, but in reality, the lines often look very blurry and blended. When interacting with a beloved friend or disciple in real time and space, it is often hard to discern which struggles, burdens, decision and patterns are loads we are meant to come alongside and carry and which are nontransferrable cargo pieces that must be left alone for the responsible party to bear.

When we love people and do life with them, be they our spouse, our children, our coworkers or mentees, the lines between individuals get blurry.  The more intimate we are with people, the harder it is to remember to keep sacred space between us. But we must fight to do so, as there are spaces that only Christ is meant to go, burdens that only Christ is able to bear and healing that can only come from personal ownership of past, patterns, and personality.

When the burdens of those I love get heavy, when stories and patterns are shared, I often find my soul weighted down by burdens that are not mine to bear. I find myself fighting to find that pencil-thin line between differentiation and discipleship.

Weekly, often daily, I find myself having to literally draw out a helpful diagram I learned from Paul David Tripp’s helpful book, Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands. I have to wrestle and wrangle my soul back into the circle of responsbility and push other weights into the circle of concern.

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There are things for which I am responsible (my phortion) which include taking care of my soul, hearing from the Lord, speaking the truth in love, listening and praying. Then there are things that, while deeply concerning to me, are not my responsibility (their phortion). I can offer suggestions, I can pray, I can weep, and I can wait. But I cannot change a soul, open eyes, change patterns, force healing or conviction in those I love deeply.

The dance of differentiaion and discipleship is an elaborate one that I have not mastered (and never fully will in this lifetime). I don’t know much about ballroom dancing, but my years in cotillion (thanks, Southern culture, for keeping such a strange animal extant), I learned this much: dancers cannot violate each other’s space. The tension between the two dancers is what makes the dance so lovely. In much the same way, as we interact with other souls, we must remember to respect each other’s sacred spaces. We will mess up, we will step on toes and bump heads. When we do, we must reset and continue to learn the dance of discipleship and differentiation.

 

 

 

 

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Yadah, Yadah, Yadah

Not the yada, yada, yada usually accompanied by an eye-roll and following a long list. A different one. A far better one.

Yadah is a Hebrew word that occurs 114 times in the Old Testament. While it is often translated as to praise or to confess, it comes from the verb that literally means to throw or to cast.

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In my study this week, I was struck by the word yadah and its wide range of meaning.  As I meditated on such a diverse group of meanings, the Lord gave a distinct picture of progression from hands gripping sin to open hands to hands full of thanksgiving.

Yadah: Confession.

When your people Israel are defeated before the enemy because they have sinned against you, and if they turn again to you and acknowledge your name and pray and plead with you in this house, then hear in heaven and forgive the sin of your people Israel and bring them again to the land that you gave to their fathers. 1 Kings 8:33-34. 

Now then make confession to the Lord, the God of your fathers and do his will.
Ezra 10:11.

In confession, we throw down our sins. We let go of them, first releasing our grip on them and then seeking to rid ourselves of them. Confession is our attempt to dispossess the sins and idols that possess us. We are also called to cast out our sins and throw down successes and failures, both of which have a similar tendency to fill our hands and hold us back from more of the gospel.

Moving from Empty Hands to Full Hands

Rid of the burdens that tend to keep our hands tied down and the trinkets that preoccupy us, our hands are able to be lifted to the Lord. We are in a posture to receive.

Empty-handed, after casting out and throwing down our idols, we can receive the gospel gifts of forgiveness, peace and restored relationship to the One who is the greatest gift. Our hands are once again filled to overflowing with the rich realities of the life, death and resurrection of the God-Man Jesus on our behalf.

The image that comes to mind involves my little boy’s once tiny hands on the rare occasion I actually had a quarter and allowed them to use those germ-infested candy machines in the front of the grocery store. Skittles or tiny Runt bananas and oranges spilling our of their shoveled hands. Too many, too much to be contained in such a small space, bound to overflow to the even more germ-infested floor. 

Yadah: Thanksgiving.

Oh, give thanks to the Lord; call upon His name; make known His deeds among the peoples! Sing to him, sing praises top him. tell of all his wondrous works!
1 Chronicles 16:8-9. 

Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksivingfm and perform your vows to the Most High.
Psalm 50:14.

Hands, once full of failure and false lovers, freshly filled to overflowing with gospel gifts, cannot help but throw down thanks and praise. Hands once frantic to control out of fear are quick to throw trust towards the God who brings order out of chaos, whether in the solar system or the soul.

Seen in this progression, the entire life of the Christian will be a series of  yadah, yadah, yadah until we can see and touch the scarred hands of Christ which have enabled such a progression.

For Christ the progression was the opposite. In the fullness of the Trinity, his mouth, hands and being were full of praise and honor directed to the Father through the Spirit. Though being in very nature God, He cast down His preferred place and became Incarnate. His hands, always offered up to the Father’s will and quick to throw Him thanks, were nailed to the tree, picking up our sins and offering them up to the Father.

His perfect life, death and resurrection compel us to continue to come before Him with our own series of yadah, yadah, yadah.

I’ve got to go, I have some casting to do.

 

 

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Grace at the Edges

I don’t like edges. When we were small, our wild and zany grandmother and her equally brave and brazen sister took all the grandchildren to Niagra Falls. While I loved eating milkshakes for breakfast and being spoiled rotten, I remember cowering in fear at the edges of the falls. My younger sister and cousins were hanging on the railing, in awe, while I sat four feet back shaking with nerves.

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It seems old habits die hard, as I am still not my best at edges. I don’t like change. Where others feel adventure, I feel anxiety. Where others teem with excitement and hope at new wineskins and ventures, I shrink back, clinging to old wineskins. They may be shot, but they are known. They may be haggard, but they are comfortable. I just don’t like the ends and the beginnings; I much prefer the solid middle to the bumpy borders. Given the choice, I would live my life without edges.

Thankfully, I have a Father who pushes me gently out of old wineskins, off the solid ground of the known and into the unknown.  I have known the stubborn love of the Father with His long-view to my sanctification that forces me to overcome short-term discomfort, inviting me to venture out of the stability of the boat and onto the wavy water. Yet, of late, I have seen it anew and afresh through parenting my own children.

For years we have been praying and wrestling about schooling decisions, always approaching education on year-by-year, child-by-child basis. This past year, we sensed the Lord calling us to switch schools from a place that has been a precious haven to our boys for the past 6 years. While we feel convinced that this is His best for our boys, they are terrified to leave the known, a small, intimate Christian school for the unknown, a larger charter school with 4 times the students.

For months, bedtimes have been tearful, honest times of sharing fears, hopes and nerves.  It seems my big boys, like me, have an aversion to edges, especially big ones.  In my flesh, I want to appease them, to let them be comfortable; but my love for the Lord and desire to obey His call, coupled with my desire to see them stretched and grown in grace and maturity, keeps me gently leading them to the edges.

I know that in six months, they will look back and see God’s gracious provision of courage and friendships and will have solid ground to stand on. I know that they will be able to look back on this major transition at the next major life transition and remember the Lord’s faithfulness and steadiness in a sea of change. But they don’t know that yet. All they know is the discomfort of the edges.

I think of God’s people being led out of Egypt, purposely doubled back to stare at imposing sea.  It must have seemed like they had been led to the edge of annihilation rather than to the edge of liberation. Yet, at those edges, God met them mightily. The  parting of the Red Sea would become a memorial to God’s faithfulness, recounted in the Psalms over and over when God’s people found themselves at yet another edge.

When we find ourselves at edges, at the outskirts of various seasons or stages, we would do well to remember another set of edges.

Behold, these are but the outskirts of his ways, and how small a whisper do we hear of him! But the thunder of his power who can understand?” Job 26:14

What we have known and experienced of God up to the present are only the mere edges, the outskirts, the fringes, the beginnings of His power, His presence, His promises. He has so much to reveal, so much more to expose and strengthen in and to us. He will continue to call us to move toward the middle of His power; He loves us too much to let us linger on the outskirts, to let us stay splashing in the surf. He would have us continue to move toward Him.

To get past the edges of His ways, we must cross many edges. To move toward the middle, toward being more and more conformed to His image, we will cross countless borders of change.

Thankfully, our Father holds our hands and leads us across the liminal places. I find great rest in my troubled soul when I think of the Father walking my nervous boys over rough edges and into more experiences of His grace.

May God’s grace meet you at your edges.

 

 

 

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Mother May I: Ought or Opportunity

My elementary school in New Jersey was in the middle of a city with no playground or green spaces to speak of. That being said, our recesses consisted of mostly group games like Red Rover, Red Light Green Light, and Mother, May I.  The sing-song words still pass through my mind from time to time, and my boys are always shocked that, back in the prehistoric days, I played the same games they play today.

Mother, May I has taken on a whole new meaning for me. With a little tweaking to Mother: May I? I am able to check in on my motivation for mothering from time to time.

If I am honest, most days I mother more out of ought than opportunity. Often the words can be switched from Mother: May I? to Mother: Must I? While may and must are only a few letters different, they are worlds apart. There is a significant difference between must and may, ought and opportunity in parenting and life.

I know all the right answers. I know that mothering is a gift, I know that children are a blessing and not a burden. I taught a class on these things at our church. And I begin most most seasons with a may attitude and perspective. But just like the oil in a car needs to be changed every 3,000 miles (or when the transmission starts to shake, in my case), I need to be serviced every now and again. The clean oil of motherhood as opportunity and gift gets polluted through everyday wear and tear and the constant grind of the engine. My may heart gets filled with the gunk of must until I nearly forget what I know to be true. Most of the time, this happens so gradually I don’t even realize I’m running on toxic fumes.

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Must parenting slowly slips into viewing motherhood and its unpaid, overtime demands as a chore, as something pressed on us. Must parenting makes ourselves into victims. Ought parenting looks out upon the day and thinks, “I have been thrust into this world of a thousand needs and limited resources. I have to go to the grocery store, I have to pick up the kids, I have to fold the laundry, I have to get the kids to practice.”

The sighs increase, the patience decreases, and they joy gets sucked out of the whole house. Then something amazing usually happens. God grabs ahold of my heart and begins to whisper truth and perspective back over my tired soul. Something jars me out of must and back into may.

Yesterday, it was my little Phin falling hard on the pavement while trying to run to keep up with his brothers. I scooped him up, all pathetic and scared and scraped. I brought him inside to tend to his tiny knees. While he was crying, I nearly cried, thinking: “What a privilege to be here when they fall hard on the rough pavement of life. What a joy to be near enough to see the fear or hurt in their eyes when they are misunderstood by a friend or face a deep disappointment or failure.”

May parenting is not an annoying Pollyanna perspective, or it cannot be for long. This mothering thing is hard, mind-numbing work. But may parenting sees opportunity and blessing right in the midst of the grind.

I am so thankful that God parents me out of may and not must. When He reminds me of His joyful daily choice to parent me in light of His promises and not my performance, my hard heart melts and I soften as a parent. He loves us out of opportunity, not ought.

Oh, may we do the same.  In humble reliance upon Divine Grace, may we endeavor.